Marriage equality | Same-sex couple accuse Stanford wedding venue of homophobia

Another wedding venue, this time in the Western Cape, has been accused of turning away a same-sex couple because of its “heterosexuals-only” policy.

In the early stages of planning their wedding, Capetonian Alex K Thorne and her American partner of two years (pictured) contacted four venues to start assessing costs and logistics.

One of these establishments was Beloftebos, in the village of Stanford, which promises “an unforgettable day filled with timeless elegance and romance”.

Thorne filled out an online enquiry form and wrote: “My finance and I intend on getting married… I’m a Cape Town native. She’s from the US. We’re both in love with the venue, and hope you’re open to same-sex couples.”

She soon after received an email from owner Coia de Villiers declining the request, but with little explanation. When Thorne asked why, De Villiers replied: “The reason is that we only host heterosexual marriages. We wish not to offend with this but it is our venue policy.”

Thorne shared a screengrab of the email on social media, which has gone viral. “Thanks Beloftebos Wedding Venue for reminding me that pretty things are reserved for straight people. Real classy,” she wrote.

Thorne told Mambaonline that she was shocked by the venue’s response. “I mean, this is 2017, in South Africa. Aren’t we beyond this? I was also really disappointed, because their venue is beautiful,” she said.

“For a place that runs off love and promise, denying a couple based on their sexuality seems really counter-intuitive,” she added.

Asked if she believes that wedding venue should be allowed to turn away same-sex couples because of their owner’s religious beliefs, Thorne said: “I think that a country’s law should dictate how people behave. As South Africans, we have to fight hard to overcome various prejudices. There is never an excuse to violate human rights. Religion cannot be one of them.”

Religious views cannot be used to deny services to LGBT people

Mambaonline called two numbers listed for Beloftebos and De Villiers for comment with no success and has left voicemail messages. The venue’s website does not state that it has a policy of only allowing opposite-sex couples to marry on the premises.

The couple’s rejection is one of many involving homophobic wedding venues since same-sex marriage was legalised in South Africa in 2006. As recently as March this year, a top wedding venue in Port Elizabeth turned away a gay couple because of their sexual orientation.

Constitutional law expert Pierre De Vos has previously written that this discriminatory practice by private business owners is in fact “breaking the law.”

The Equality Act prohibits the denial of services on the basis of sexual orientation. In April 2015, the Equality Court in Cape Town ruled that owners of guesthouses cannot use their religious beliefs to turn away gay customers. The same logic should apply when it comes to any other venues serving the public.

In 2012, the Sha-Mani venue in Alberton, Johannesburg was fined R20,000 by the Equality Court for discriminating against a lesbian couple but it shrugged off the penalty and continued to reject same-sex couples. Despite numerous similar incidents involving a host of other homophobic wedding venues around the country, there has been little appetite to challenge this form of discrimination in the Equality Court.

Victims, however, are still urged to file a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission here, and to pursue the matter.

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